INDIANAPOLIS – As much as Chris Ballard loves those picks, the allure of drafting Kwity Paye was too good to pass up on Thursday night.
The Colts had a trade offer on the table as the clock ticked at No. 21 overall.
Ballard knew what it would mean to add more draft capital, as he works his way through a draft with a career-low 6 picks, and also is likely to be without his 1st rounder in 2022.
But Ballard’s infatuation with Paye—and in particular the unique physical gifts of Paye at a premium position, plus a character makeup that the Colts dream of—had the man who wants picks and more picks making a selection in the first round of the draft for the first time since 2018.
And it wasn’t hard.
“I’ve made some pretty easy picks where you just knew and you pull the card and pulling the card of Kwity Paye was very easy,” Ballard said after taking the Michigan defensive end.
It was the combination of Paye’s physical traits (starting with his high motor, to go along with his strength and explosion at 262 pounds), plus the character of him that had Ballard saying no to trading back.
Paye put up 36 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press and ran 4.57 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day. For a guy 6-2 and 261 pounds, putting up those numbers are rare.
“It was really easy because his energy,” Ballard says. “You always look for guys who pop. Do they pop on tape when you’re watching – all 22 of them – who pops off the tape? And Kwity pops off the tape. One, with his athleticism and his speed but also with his effort. This kid, he already plays the way we want to play. He is going to fit in pretty quickly. I know our defensive players were pretty excited. I heard from a few of them.”
Paye’s story of fleeing a war-torn part of Africa, with his mother and older brother, seeking hope and life in the United States, is Hollywood-like.
What Paye has already had to endure in getting to the NFL wasn’t lost on the Colts.
“He has got good tape. That’s number one,” Ballard says. “To get put on the board in the first round, you have got to have really good tape. Then you’ve got to go through the rest of the process.
“What his backstory tells you is this kid – he’s got some survival skills and when it gets hard in this league, he’s going to be able to handle it. This is a hard league. It’s hard and you’re going to fail. Players are going to fail, you’re going to have some bad moments and you have got to have something inside of you that allows you to push through it. I think it’s one of the really good things that our scouts are able to do is to find those type of players. From Quenton (Nelson) to Braden (Smith) to Darius (Leonard), you can go down the list of guys who have had their – they might not have had the first start to their careers great but they just kept battling and they have a confidence level that they are going to be good players in this league. I think Kwity has that.”
In the days leading up to the draft, many fans clamored for the Colts to trade back.
But you always knew some intriguing defenders would be on the board at No. 21.
The Colts had Paye in that group.
Paye’s traits (to further develop) and disposition were too good for Ballard to move back and get more darts at the board.
And now the Colts hope they have finally found a defensive end of the future.